Thorne Room Collection - miniature 18th century English Entrance Hall of the Georgian Period c.1775

Miniature 18th Century English Entrance Hall

Well, I am not so much going to Chicago as returning.

Last week I traveled to Chicago with a group of  fellow docents from the Seattle Art Museum.

As you might imagine, our trip was heavily focused on art and architecture, due to a shared love of art and design.

With a few goals in mind, we set off to explore the city, beginning with a scenic tour on the top level of a  double decker bus.

As the tour guide talked, the wind kicked up a storm. (I would suggest bringing a hat, except that it would likely not remain on your head for very long).

Still, this trolley will take you anywhere you want to go. You can get on and off at will, and continue the journey at whatever pace you choose.

Did you know that Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City” has nothing to do with the weather?

Seems the term “windy” was in reference to some rather windy politicians. It was ironic to hear this tidbit of information while the wind was blowing off the lake and whipping our hair.

It was an educational moment.

Our next stop was the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum that has been high on my list for many years. Up until now, I’d never had the opportunity to see it.

So many famous paintings and other treasures were on view, that it literally took my breath away. I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon browsing through gallery after gallery, taking in one surprise after another.

The Van Gogh painting of “The Bedroom” below, has been an all-time favorite of mine.  What a delightful surprise it was to find that it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Being the Van Gogh fan that I am, I don’t know how this small detail eluded me.

VanGogh 'Bedroom' at the Chicago Art Institute
VanGogh ‘Bedroom’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

This famous painting is an intimate portrait of Van Gogh’s bedroom, when he lived in the Yellow House, in Arles. This is the same house that he shared, briefly, with Gauguin before their famous fight that ended with Van Gogh cutting off part of his left ear.

Yet it is a simply furnished, tranquil room that offers no hint of what was to come.

I am such a fan of this painting, that I even have a miniature version of it in my home.

Speaking of miniatures, I have to admit that the absolute highlight for me was viewing the Thorne Rooms, located on the lower level of the museum.

I first learned of these miniature rooms many years ago, and vowed that I would eventually have the opportunity to see them in person. Well, I finally had that chance, and it exceeded my wildest expectations.

Suffice it to say, that the level of craftsmanship that went into creating this collection of 68 period rooms, all in miniature scale, is absolutely incredible.

But then, Mrs. Thorne, the woman behind the visions, had the financial means to do so. She employed the best artisans to carry out her designs, and never settled for second-best.

The amazing result transports one to a different world, where you can travel back in time to 16th century France, England, or even early American homes, dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, if not before.

In every room, there are clear signs of an unknown occupant. For whatever reason, that person has just vacated the room, leaving behind a teeny tiny book resting on the sofa, with a pair of miniscule spectacles nearby.

A table is set for tea, complete with teapot and porcelain teacups. On the sideboard, there might be a silver coffee service, with an interrupted embroidery project resting near a window. A multitude of miniature books lines the bookshelves.

Every room contains one or more windows, and the attention to detail extends to the views outside. Trees provide much needed shade in the heat of summer, and flowers bloom in the garden. We can see a hint of the house next door, or a city street in the dead of winter.

It is a place where imaginations can thrive.

Frank Lloyd Wright "Prairie Style" Home

Frank Lloyd Wright “Prairie Style” Hom

On our final day in Chicago, we took a two hour Architectural Walking Tour, that wove thru city streets and told the story of Chicago’s architectural history.

The architectural styles changed from classical to Art Deco, and hints of something in between. The tour included the Auditorium building by architectural firm Adler & Sullivan -currently hosting the Joffrey Ballet.

Next we took the subway out to Oak Park, IL  for the second architectural tour of the day, this one featuring the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in an up-scale neighborhood of leafy trees and manicured lawns. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright got his start as an up-and-coming architect.

This house was one of his earliest works, designed in his “Prairie” style: horizontal emphasis, obscure entryways (i.e not obvious from the street where the front door might typically be), and small, compact interiors with more open floor plans than what had been the norm up until that time.

Another surprise awaited us, as a small group of us walked a different route back to the train station. Rounding a corner, we came across Wright’s famed Unity Temple.

We climbed the steps to the front door, which to our delight, was unlocked. Within seconds, a guard appeared, telling us the building was closed for the day.

“We’re here from Seattle” we lamented, “We’re headed home tomorrow – please could we take a quick look?”

The guard studied us a moment, then relented. “I’ll give you one minute”, he said.

But it was enough.

We entered the sanctuary of the church, drew in our breath at the stillness and beauty of the space, then left.

It was a wonderful trip and I hope you have enjoyed these little snippets.  To see more photos, visit my Chicago photo album at my Facebook page!